Furano Japan Guide including Furano attractions, Furano Skiing, Furano Ski Resort and Snowboarding information and the Hokkaido Belly Button Festival.

Furano (富良野), located somewhat debatably in the precise geographical center of Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, is an amalgamation of several quaint farming towns around a minor municipal center. Furano is famous for its remarkably light and dry powder snow, beautiful fields of lavender, entirely domestic vineyards, and its unique Hokkai-Heso Matsuri - the Hokkaido Belly Button Festival.



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Why is Furano Great for Skiing

Furano is known as Heso no Machi (the Belly Button Town) due to its central location. Furano's inland location (almost 100 km -- about as far inland as Japan gets) and high elevation result in a continental climate, the reason behind Furano's successful ski hill and wine industries. There is a very large temperature variation, so a light jacket is recommended even in the summer. Summer midday temperatures may exceed 30 degrees C, and midwinter's will drop below -30. Furano has very heavy snowfall in the winter.

There has been a substantial increase in foreign skiers and snowboarders, particularly from Australia, in recent seasons. At least 2,000 Australians visited Furano in the 06/07 winter. Furano seems set to enjoy the same skiing success that Niseko has. Furano has a long ski season; normally from the last week of November to the end of the first week of May.

Furano Skiing, Snowboarding

Furano has some of the driest and deepest powder snow in the world. If you go in peak season you can expect up to at least a metre of snow to fall in a week this makes for fantastic fun! Also it is a relatively quiet hill (unlike Niseko) so you rarely have problems with waiting for anything. There are 2 areas for skiing/snowboarding in Furano: Furano zone (near the New Furano Prince Hotel) and the Kitanomine area. Both areas can be accessed by the same lift pass with a lift linking the Kitanomine zone to Furano zone, while a (mostly) downhill run from the top of the Furano zone will get you back to Kitanomine zone.

Both areas have multiple lifts, with Kitanomine have an enclosed gondola that goes to the top of the area, whilst the Furano zone has the Ropeway, what is said to be the fastest lift in Japan. It will get you from the bottom of the mountain to the top in approximately 4m 41s travelling at a speed of about 10 metres/second. As it also holds up to 101 persons with gear, this allows to you being able to complete multiple runs per hour depending on skill and route.

Both ski areas have rest areas available, with toilets and vending machines for you to use. Furano zone also has a restaurant next to the exit of the Ropeway, where you can order a Japanese curry, pizza, chips or other things to recharge your energy.

Furano Ski Resort
Furano Ski Resort Kitanomine aria Hokkaido Japan. Picture by wakimasa

Furano Hiking - even Snow Hiking!

Hiking , Furano is the closest city to many great hiking trails, including; Furano Dake, Ashibetsu Dake, Tokachi Dake, ect.

The local tourist office next to the station has the contact details of an outdoor activity center. They offer different activities for the various seasons with excellent service for a very low price.

In winter, the snow-shoe hiking is especially good. You will be picked up from your hotel, driven to one of the most remote locations in Japan and can make fresh tracks up quiet and surreal, snow-covered mountains. The hiking will take you over the tops of 2 meter high bamboo forests, now completely covered with some of the best powder snow in the world.

Other winter activities include snow-mobiling, ice-hole fishing.

Furano's population is approximately 26,000, including the incorporated communities in the outskirts. The population of the main municipal area is said to be about 16,000. Don't expect to meet a large number of English speakers outside of the major hotel and tourist areas.

Getting to Furano

By train
Furano has indirect train service from Sapporo and New Chitose Airport. All trains require a transfer at Takikawa station. The last trains leave at 20:19 (New Chitose Airport) and 21:00 (Sapporo). In the winter, there is also a direct Ski Express Train from Sapporo which leaves at 8:04, and can also be accessed from the local Airport train which leaves New Chitose Airport at 6:53. There are 12 direct trains from Asahikawa, with the last train leaving JR Asahikawa station at 22:37.

By bus
There is a regular Chuo Bus between Sapporo and Furano (timetable). The Lavender Express bus provides connections from Biei, Asahikawa Airport, and JR Asahikawa Station. During the ski season, there is a very convenient shuttle bus directly from New Chitose Airport (timetable).

By taxi
If you are arriving at New Chitose Airport at 8 pm or later, this may be your only alternative. It can cost up to 50,000 yen, depending on season. Prai Travel has some discounts and can take reservations for this taxi trip. It will cost about 25,000 - 35,000 depending on season if booked in advance.

By car
Furano is accessible by highways 237 and 38. There is no expressway which reaches Furano directly. The closest expressway exit is Takikawa, about a 45-minute drive away. In good weather, it takes about 2.5 to 3 hours to reach Furano from Sapporo, or about 1 hour from Asahikawa. Driving to Furano in winter is highly inadvisable unless you are extremely familiar with winter driving in northern
Japan. Highways and major roads may ice or drift over, especially during evenings and early mornings. Sudden blizzards can be extremely severe in the exposed highway areas.

Furano Transport

By train
Very limited access, besides the main JR Station. Local trains also stop at Shimanoshita (north of the main city) and Yamabe Station, but there is very little of interest within walking distance. One exception is the mountain climbing entrance to Ashibetsu-dake, which is located within the Taiyou no Sato park, about 45 minutes' walk from Yamabe Station.

By bus
Furano Bus provides most local bus services. The office is located directly across the street from the entrance to JR Furano Station. Conveniently, their office is shared with the Furano Tourist Association, which can provide advice on how to reach tourist attractions by bus. Overall, the bus service is poor, with only a few buses each day going to many of the major destinations.

By taxi
Due to the lack of effective public transportation, taxi services in Furano are very good. The largest carrier, Furano Taxi, has a cell-phone interpretation system which can provide service in English, Chinese, and Korean. Their fleet also contains wheelchair-accessible and other special-needs vehicles. For a small group, taxi can be quite affordable, with fares to many tourist attractions under 2,000 yen per trip. There is a 20% fare increase for late night (10pm to 5am) or winter (Nov 25 to Mar 31) services.

By car
Furano has a high traffic accident rate and one of the highest fatality rates for accidents in Japan. Rights of way are often confusingly marked on back and rural roads, where locals will often drive in excess of 100 kph. Driving is not recommended during the peak summer holidays (o-bon or local festival periods) due to the severe traffic congestion. If you are unfamiliar with winter driving in Japan, do not start here. A four-wheel drive vehicle is highly recommended. Many minor roads will be solid ice, and major roads may ice or drift over during the evening and early morning. The stop lines and center lines will be completely invisible at many intersections -- look for the blue signs which designate them. With that said, Furano has a generally poor public transit system, and many of Furano's unique attractions are best reached by car. Remember for the driver not to sample the wine at Furano Wine Factory -- even a minuscule amount of blood alcohol when driving is a criminal offense in Japan.

By bicycle
Rental cycles may be found near the train station. With the station at your back, several souvenir shops on the left side have bicycles for rent. They may not offer a helmet (adults in Japan almost never use bicycle helmets) but helmets may be available if you ask. Many hotels and pensions will also lend out bicycles. It's safest to stay on sidewalks wherever possible.

On foot
It's quite possible to explore the small downtown area on foot. The Kitanomine skiing village is also very accessible by foot, although winter conditions can be severe. Other areas, such as Rokugo, are quite spread out, with 2 or 3 km between points of interest. During winter, one should be very careful of footing, as paths and streets are often slick ice.

Furano Attractions

For those not interested in outdoor/physical activities, a few local interests are available to keep you occupied.

Furano Cheese Factory
Located out of town near to the New Furano Prince Hotel area is the Furano Cheese factory. Built in the 1980's, you can see the cheese getting produced downstairs, while upstairs you can buy from the shop. A speciality of the factory is the Cuttlefish Ink cheese, a camembert style cheese with white mold and black cream coloured by cuttlefish Ink (It doesn't affect the taste). Also available are Furano Cheese and Wine gift packs, which can be brought home, depending on your countries quarantine laws.
Down the corridor from the Cheese factory, is a little pizzeria, complete with wood-fired oven. Good for a cheap lunch/snack as 500Yen will get you a 1/4 of a 28cm pizza and a soft drink.

Furano Winery
Situated about 3km from the Furano JR Train Station is the Furano winery. Guests can watch the bottling of wines, sample the locally made wines and also buy bottles to take home.
Other sights include the Furano Glassmaker, the Furano Museum as well as shops in the main Furano area of town.

Furano Shopping

Handmade local arts and crafts can be found at the "Ninguru Terrace/Ningle Terrace" craftsmens village near the New Furano Prince Hotel. The shops are built like little loggers huts and are open from 12 noon most days. Local items include the following:

Snowflake Maker - The lady artisan makes all the snowflakes herself in Silver (not coated nickel). Each piece is unique, as the mold is broken when removing the finished silver. This means that although some may look the same, each piece is a one off. Available as either pendants, earrings or rings, these make a nice (if a little pricey) gift for someone special.

Paper Art - It may not sound very interesting or talented on the surface, but this is the country known for there attention to detail. The pictures available are mostly rural scenes, but the handiwork that goes into making them is exquisite.

Glass Maker - Using the little kiln onsite, the artist makes hand fired items.
Locally produced food and drink (e.g. Furano Wine, carrot juice) can be found at the "Bussan Center" near downtown, or at almost any grocery store.

Most hotels have gift stores with a selection of local items, including postcards of the local area, local mascots and lots of lavender scented things, like candles, pillows, soaps etc.

Furano Restaurants

Seoul Terrace, 5th Street (between the hospital and Furano Station). A Korean restaurant operated by a Korean couple. Nearly everything is handmade. Authentic Korean dishes and Japanese fusions. Prices 800 - 1500 yen for a meal, order a side dish as the volume is a bit low.

Masaya, 5th Street (between the hospital and Furano Station). Okonamiyaki / teppanyaki shop that is very popular with locals and travellers. The owner is very entertaining and speaks excellent English. You can easily fill up on a large sized okonomiyaki with noodles for 800 yen, other dishes in the range of 1000 yen.
Yama no Doxon / Furano Beer Hall, Kitanomine. Has a unique microbrew on tap, fresh bread, smoked meats, local cheeses, and an amazing variety of menu items. Lunches under 1000 yen, dinners 1200 to 1400, all-you-can-eat-and-drink special for 3000 yen. Closed Mondays (however if Monday is a public holiday, it is closed Tuesday as well)

Furano Delice, Kitanomine. Home of Japan's #1 milk pudding and some amazing cakes. 400 yen + per snack.

Tomizushi, Kitanomine (near the 7-Eleven) Has a large range of fantastic sushi even including the surprisingly delicious raw horse. Has an english menu as well.
Syoujiki Mura, Kitanomine. Serves a range of ramen and Japaneese curries. Great food, English speaking waitress and menu. Great place to visit.

Tirol Lamb BBQ , Kitanomine. Downstairs from Cafe Tirol is the Tirol Lamb Barbeque. It is a cheap, Korean-style "cook it yourself on the table-top" restaurant. Lamb (Sir)loin is 620Yen, Lamb Chops (3pcs) are 980Yen. An "All-you-can-eat-and-drink in 90 Minutes" is available for 4000Yen per person (whole table must order it), but if you need protein after long day in the snow it is well worth the money. The staff although not fluent in English, do know enough to get by, but are extremely friendly and a return visit makes you feel like one of the regulars. Sapporo Beer is available on tap, and the local winery's wine is available by glass or or bottle.

JUN Restaurant , New Furano Hotel, Kitanomine. Located on the ground level of this cheaper hotel in the Kitanomine ski area, you'd be forgiven for thinking it is not worth your time. This would be a mistake however, as although it is not much to look at as far as decor is concerned, the prices are very reasonable and food of excellent quality. The hotel itself is owned by a seafood company, and if you are in the mood for it, you will be pleasantly surprised with the variety and freshness of the seafood. A highlight is the plate of King Crab (written as King Clubs on the menu), which can be yours for about 2800Yen (a good serve). If you aren't in the mood for seafood, you can also try their Steak set available for 2310Yen. Not only does it include a 150gram steak, but soup, salad and either bread or rice are included as well. Drinks menu includes local and French wines, local and national beers, as well as sho-chu, sake and spirits.

Panier , Kitanomine. Tucked away off the main roads of Kitanomine is Panier. It serves a little of everything, including pizza and pasta as well as japanese style curries (including their own speciality "Black Curry"). Cheap food for those who have a small budget but good taste.

(Article covering "getting to" based on Wikitravel article by Wikitravel user Morph. Based on work by [email protected], Daan, Jani Patokallio, Nick Roux, ryan libre and Colin Jensen, Wikitravel user(s) Episteme and Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel.  Article used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 1.0.)

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